Category Archives: Musica!

New Video, “If you Love to Ride,” with the Rocinha Surfe School! Hot off the Press!


Hi All!  It’s been ages since I last posted.  It’s been a whirlwind summer of book tours, coming back to California (yay!), and teaching kids about nature in the Marin Headlands.

I’ve landed back on my feet in California, and while I am figuring out my next steps,  I’ve been keeping up the momentum of Surfer Grrrls Brazil in a bunch of fun ways.  I’ve teamed up with my friend Farhana, and we are now working together on BrownGirlSurf, the organization she started, named in honor of Polynesia’s first surfers, to support women’s surf community and female surf pioneers all over the world.  We’ve started offering beginner surf lessons for women and girls, and the first ones have gone really well, with folks coming back for more!   Check it out here if you’d like to learn!  I’m also representing Surfer Grrrls Brazil at a panel discussion about girl surfers around the world at the Patagonia store in SF on October 8 (The International Day of the Girl!).  More on that to come!  I am hoping that the future may hold further video collaborations with girl surfing projects on the California coast.

In the meantime, I’ve been slowly sorting through and editing all my video files, mixing beats with all my samples, and recording all the lyrics I’ve been writing.  And now, I am THRILLED to present Surfer Grrrls Brazil’s latest video, “If You Love to Ride.”

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 10.35.40 AM


This video was filmed in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, with original music produced by myself and the Rocinha Surfe Escola and Projeto Maré Mansa, who provided the live percussion track and wrote the verses in Portuguese. While the focus of my journey through Surfer Grrrls Brazil has been my own surf adventures and those of other female surfers I met along the way, each place I have travelled has held its own surprises. In Rio, I was taken under the wing of Bocão the ever jovial founder of the local surf school, which has been providing “rehabilitated” surf boards, surf lessons, and a variety of arts and wellness programming to kids in Rocinha for over 15 years. This transformed my experience in the city as I became part of this loving surf school community, full of fun times and colorful characters of all ages. For almost a month, I went surfing with the kids in the afternoon, helped with English classes, and made music with them in the evenings. The kids loved my raps, and we had great times freestyling together. I asked them, and their talented music teacher Delão Allen of Projeto Maré Mansa, to collaborate with me on a song I was writing which was a particular favorite of the kids (they loved singing, “put your hands up!). In Rio, it rained almost every day, and the waves were either terrifyingly huge or frustratingly non-existent. But I learned from the kids and Bocão all the different ways you can have fun by the beach. The video reflects the real Rocinha I discovered – where more people body boarded than surfed, where there were still a lot of social barriers to girls surfing, but a few brave girls got out there and showed their mettle, where the time we spent on land, skateboarding, samba dancing, drumming, and kicking it around the neighborhood was just as meaningful as our time on the waves.  Enjoy!

Music Class with the Rocinha grommets

The kids at Rocinha surf school getting down to their favorite tunes

The kids at Rocinha surf school getting down to their favorite tunes

The Rocinha Surf School, where I have been spending a lot of time surfing with the local grommets, is actually more like a community center, hosting English classes, music classes, and assorted other programs and outings.  Thursday nights at the surf school are my favorite, since all the kids come out en masse for music classes.  For an hour and a half the place is full of kids learning how to play various percussion instruments or the guitar.  Classes are taught by the remarkable Delão Allan, a super talented and big-hearted local rock star, who has a knack for song writing, and has helped the kids transform their ideas about surfing into some very catchy songs.  Every class starts and ends with a song.  Here’s one of my favorites – sung to the tune of one of last year’s biggest pop hits.

Getting ready for Carnaval!!

Hundreds of drummers at the rehearsal of the Rocinha samba school

Hundreds of drummers at the rehearsal of the Rocinha samba school

The other day as I was trudging up the hill in the rain (it has rained just about every day since I arrived), I looked up and saw a billboard with photographs of people in brightly colored carnival costumes.  From what I could tell, the billboard was advertising the weekly rehearsals of the Rocinha Samba school, suggesting that we could all come “experience carnival ourselves” on Thursday nights from 8 to 10.

Rio is home to many Samba schools, nearly every neighborhood has one ans ROcinha is no exception.  I had read in my guidebook that its very fun to attend the rehearsals of the samba schools as Carnaval draws near.  So I made a mental note to try to check out this rehearsal on Thursday.

The rehearsal was held right next to the surf school so I headed over there a little after 8pm with my roommate Charlenes, but it was totally deserted.  As I wandered around in circles wondering what to do, another car pulled up and a woman jumped out and poked her head into the deserted rehearsal hall.  I asked her if she knew where the rehearsal might be, and she said, “Oh, if they’re not here, they must be at the beach.”  At the beach!?  Cool….  And of course, this being Brazil, and everyone being incredibly friendly and fun-loving, she said, “Hey come in the car with us, we’re heading over.”  So Charlene and I jumped in the car, and met our new friends for the evening, Wagner, Paula, and Lourdes who all worked in a beauty salon nearby.  We got to the beach just as the rain was starting again, and as far as I could tell it was deserted.  But then I looked far down the road, and in the distance I could see bright lights and hear some distant drumming.  It’s down there Paula said.  So we hurried down the street, and soon came face to face with the biggest, most frenetic and exciting traveling parade of Samba I have ever encountered. Literally hundreds of people are drumming extremely complicated samba rhythms in perfect harmony. It is impossible to describe the power and such a thing – so much sound, so much precision, so much swing and thump.  30 enormous bass drums.  30 medium bass drums, 30 snares, 30 little tambors, a random crew of pots and pans hitters, an army of shakers, and a vanguard of cuica players.  The sound literally makes you drunk with excitement.  And these drummers are only part of the action.  They are playing in unison with a few amplified guitars and cavaquinhos (a mini samba guitar) and singers who are travelling behind them, on top of a bus covered in loud speakers.  The singers are a crew of burly almost frat-boy like Dudes, who appear to have consumed an entire refrigerator of Monster energy juice, as they jump around with seemingly undiminishing excitement, literally shouting the samba songs into their microphones.

The musicians are only the core of the parade.  It extends far out in front of them, starting with the old ladies, the Baianas, dressed in white dresses with white head scarves, who dance around gleefully as if they were 50 years younger than they are.  Then the community – this is just hundreds of people who chose to march with the samba school, and get to dress up in costume and learn the official Rocinha samba song.  Old people young people, rich people, poor people, little people, big people.  They all look fit to burst with happiness as they dance down the street singing along to the band.  Then there are the passistas – these people are my heros.  These are the dancers, both male and female who move their hips, butts, and feet at the speed of light in the quintessential Brazilian samba dance.  It seems that only a country as vivacious, fit, and well-coordinated as Brazil could handle having a national dance that was so damn hard to do.  They are mesmerizing, the men in white pants and sparkly shirts and shoes and fedora hats, the women in very very little dresses, high heeled shoes, flicking their hair about flirtatiously (the hair flicking seems to be a very important part of rio samba).  Then there is a beautiful lady in a sparkly dress – I think she might be the queen of the passista’s who gets her own special place, processing and dancing in front of the bateria of drummers.

As you can imagine, I am pretty much losing my mind with happiness.  The sidewalk is full of enthusiastic onlookers, many of whom are samba dancing with similar skill to the passistas.  I decide that perhaps one of my alternate life goals is to become a passista and I S1770008start dancing along trying desperately to get my feet and butt to wiggle back and forth as fast as theirs do.  And then again, because Brazil is so awesome, everyone is super nice and encouraging, and all these people who dance 100 times better than me are taking me by the hand and showing me the moves and twirling me around.  This is perhaps the most exciting energy filled event I have ever been to, and here’s the crazy thing, this is just a REHEARSAL.  My new friends Paula, Lourdes, and Wagner assure me that this does not even COMPARE to the real thing at Carnaval!  I can’t believe it!!!  I wonder if my body can physically handle how exciting Carnaval is going to be.

After the parade ends, Charlene and I spend the next two hours hanging out at one of the beach kiosks with our new pals, hearing stories of carnival and life at the beauty salon where they work.  Finally sore-footed and exhausted, we head back up the hill to our little house in Rocinha, feeling a little bit more like part of the neighborhood.

Rio De Janeiro, Oh but you are so beautiful!

The view looking out from Santa Teresa towards the water

The view looking out from Santa Theresa towards the water

Rio DeJaneiro is a shockingly gorgeous city.  It sprawls across huge rainforest covered mountains, punctuated by towering rock edifices on the edge of crystal blue beaches.  The people are as beautiful as all the songs and stories say.  And the vibe is festive, relaxed, friendly, fun-loving, musical.

I had the great fortune of spending my first few days in Rio in one of the city’s most picturesque neighborhoods, Santa Theresa.  This neighborhood winds up a forested mountain on twisted cobblestone streets lined with vine entangled colonial houses.  For many years yellow street cars have been the favored form of transport.  On sunny afternoons, beautiful people line the sidewalks drinking

Sunday afternoon streetcorner in Santa Theresa

Sunday afternoon streetcorner in Santa Theresa

bear, chatting, and listening to music.  The view from my friend Andrew’s apartment looked out at a tree-covered valley and a hill on the otherside with the ocean off in the distance.  Every night, before I went to sleep, I would look out at the twinkling lights spread across the hillside, and feel like I was part of something bigger.

My favorite moment in Santa Teresa occurred when I was wandering through the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon and stumbled across a live samba band playing to a small neighborhood street party.  One of my favorite things about Brazil is the intergenerational

Recycled art on the hillside

Recycled art on the hillside

partying – everyone from babies to grannies loves to get down here – and this street party embodied it.  Here’s a video, that, while a bit sloppy (I was dancing while I shot it), gives you a feel.





A new pandeiro for me!


I am in love with my pandeiro.  It’s a humble little drum, often mistaken for a tambourine, but it holds a world of possibilities, and when it jumps in as an accompaniment, it can turn a simple song on a guitar into a party worth dancing to.  I love the crunchy sound you get from tapping the rim of the drum where the platinelas or jingles are mounted.  I love the resonant bass you get from thumping your thumb against the face of the drum.  I love how you can switch up the tones by muting the skin of the drum with your finger, like putting a wah wah pedal on your pandeiro.   Part of the reason I love my pandeiro so much is because my particular drum is a beauty.   It is no ordinary pandeiro.  Here’s the backstory:

I look forward to pandeiro class every week the same way a kid looks forward to the family trip to six flags.  But a couple weeks back, we had an extra surprise in store.

With my new pandeiro and pandeiro heroes

After class my pandeiro teacher, Vava, offered to take my friend and fellow student Dan and I to meet his pandeiro maker, from whom he was picking up an instrument that day.   We’ve always admired Vava’s pandeiro, which is made from beautiful dark wood, with an elegant inlaid border, and has such a clear crisp and full sound, it seems to come from a different pandeiro universe than our mortal pandeiros.  When he lets one of us play it, it’s like getting to sit down at a Steinway concert grand.  Of course we jumped at the chance to meet his pandeiro maker, the master craftsmen, Fabiano Raposa, who happens to live right here in Florianopolis.

One of Fabiano’s turkeys

We drove to an older neighborhood of narrow streets that wound up and down hills, where many small old houses still had sizeable yards and accompanying livestock.  Fabiano’s workshop was set next to his house and what appeared to be a miniature farm.  Chickens and very impressive turkeys wandered around  on the shady lawn while a horse happily grazed in a small paddock nearby.

Everything in Fabiano’s workshop was made by hand by him , his wife, or one of his sons  — from the treating and stretching of the skins, to the pressing and burnishing of the platinelas, the little cymbal-shaped jingles.  An array of beautiful pandeiros were set on the table before us and we got to try them all out for size and sound.

Dan checks out the wares

Dan, who is a very accomplished pandeiro player had brought along some cash so he could purchase one of these special instruments, and on his encouragement, I did too.   On one hand, I felt unworthy of such a nice instrument, since I am just an infant in my pandeiro playing and can’t make full use of all its sonic possibilities.  On the other hand, as Dan kept reminding me, a good instrument can make a big difference in your development as a player.  Fabiano had an intermediate model, which to me sounded more beautiful than any pandeiro I had ever dreamed of owning, and I decided to spring for it.

Dan was right.  Since getting that pandeiro, my playing has improved a ton.  And I practice a lot more now, because, as mentioned earlier, I am in LOVE with my pandeiro. It just sounds so good!  I can’t wait to pull it out of its little carrying case so I can listen to it crunch and thump and sing.  Somedays when I come home from surfing, I play samba with my

neighbors in the backyard of the hostel (totally thrilling and amazing to be in Brazil and to be MAKING MY OWN samba music) and in the evenings around sunset, you can find me strolling along the dunes of Joaqina with my little drum, trying to hone my jedi pandeiro skills.

My first Samba!


One thing I told myself when I came to Brazil was to simplify my life.  Focus on my project, Surfer Grrrls Brazil, don’t plan too much in one day, and enjoy the things that I am doing in the moments that I do them.  But in the last few days, I have been  running from one event to the next a little bit like a chicken with my head cut off.  I was noticing that the more I ran from one thing to the other, the less I actually enjoyed the things I was running to.  It was time to slow down and just give myself a little time to reflect and enjoy and write.

BUT the problem was, there was one more thing happening the other night that I really didn’t want to miss. (you see how my thinking goes…)  A samba party at Lagaoa Conceincao.  Lagoa is the beautiful, part alternative artsy, part tourist party resort-y, town that lies half way between the main city and the coast.  Its nestled amidst mountains, on the banks of a GORGEOUS huge lake that is pinched in two by a little isthmus of land.  On this strip lies a row of restaurants and bars where you can enjoy cold refreshments on sunkissed verandas and gaze at the  sailboats and kite surfers zipping around on the water just a few feet away.  Since coming to Brazil, I’d really wanted to hear samba, the lilting music that is so quintessentially Brazilian, and I was also getting concerned about my lack of involvement in local night life.  I had always dreamed that Brazilian nights were filled with parties and music, but most of the surfers I had been hanging with went to sleep early, and my beloved Brazilian family is not  much interested in leaving the house after 8pm.   With the exception of one lovely night listening to an African-fusion-jazz band, I spent most of my nights at home.  Part of this also has to do with my my car-lessness and the location of my living quarters far from the center of music and night life.   Buses are painfully infrequent after 8pm, and getting anywhere becomes a major project.

So I was extremely determined to go to this samba event tonight, even though all signs suggested that I should work on my goal of simplifying my life, and just stay home.    I had been working for most of the day on a variety of neglected tasks, but was still feeling overwhelmed and not yet caught up.  I managed to make it to the beach for a quick yet glorious sunset surf session  and a little reprieve.  But afterwards, my own poor planning led to me not having any food at home for dinner and a series of internet glitches caused my evening work session to be much more frustrating then productive.  Pretty soon, it was 10 pm, I still hadn’t eaten dinner, and I was a long and complicated bus ride away from the samba party, with no clear way of getting back home when it ended.

But for some reason, I could not let go of the idea of going to this partySo off I went, for the 40 minute trek to the bus stop, starving, exhausted, and annoyed by my own stubborness.

An hour and a half later, I arrive at the party.  It is at a bar right across from the water, but the bar is more like a house with a big veranda and a front yard.  There are people milling about everywhere on the lawn, and a happy party atmosphere.  It looks fun, but there is no music, and I didn’t know anyone, so I am gonna have to work on being social or brave with no other tool than my middling Portuguese.   I head inside the house/bar, hoping that it might contain a scrap of food for me to eat.  But just as I arrive, the kitchen closes.  I may die here at this party because my stomach is starting to digest itself.   But wait!   I see someone I know, a dude from the music classes I have been going to.  I am distracted from my hunger by the hope of someone to talk to.  Upon seeing my distress at the kitchen being closed, He offers me a bite of his potato pastry and talks to me so I feel like less of a loser just standing around.  And then things start to look better, because I realize that this inside area is where the band plays.  Their instruments are all set up, they are just taking a break and now they are coming back.

Several middle aged to older men wearing caps and fedora-esque hats take seats at stools and chairs in the corner.   There are a couple guitars, a little mini guitar, and a host of percussion instruments – including a pandeiro (my favorite!) – the little frame drum with jingles on the side, a scrapey thing, a couple of the deep bass drums or surdos, the agogo (double cow bells), and an awesome instrument called a cuica which looks like a drum and sounds like a laughing monkey and is played by rubbing a wet cloth on the inside.  There’s even a trombone waiting at the ready!  I am getting very excited for someone to pick that up and start playing.  There really is very little separation between where the musicians are sitting and the rest of the room, and many of the copious drums spill out into the area where the people are milling around to listen and dance.

And then the guitars start strumming.  And then the pandeiro and bigger drums jump in, in perfect rhythmic counterpoint, and then I hear how it all fits together, the perfect polyrhythmic swing of samba, and it is BEAUTIFUL.   and suddenly the attention of the room has shifted to the musicians, and everyone is dancing.  And a voluptuous dark haired matron begins to sing, and I realize that I have been transported directly into all my Brazilian dreams.  The scene that I’d always imagined while listening to traditional samba cds , the crowded bar, the clink of glasses in the background, the dim golden light which makes everyone look rosy and flushed, the table of grandparents next to the musicians embracing and swaying as they sing along, and the music just filling the space – so casually but so completely, while people dance and smile.  I forget my hunger in my newfound bliss, and all I can do is smile and dance.  The musicians are literally right in front of me, and I feel like the lady is singing right to me.  All around me folks are doing the very tricky to master, samba dance, where you move your hips and your feet really fast.  My Brazilian friend Marisa once explained to me, that its easier if you pretend you are crushing an invisible cockroach with your heel .  Behind us  couples are dancing elegantly in the impossibly crowded space.  Pretty soon someone grabs me to dance, and I explain that I don’t know how to do Samba, but my dance  partner, who I soon realize is one of the  bar’s “designated dancer” sees no problem with this fact, and starts leading me around in a dance requiring pretty intricate hip wiggling.  Thank god for all the Forro dancing I’d been doing in SF, because I was able to hang on barely by my fingernails.  I screwed up most of the complicated steps, but my Brazilian friend was forgiving and kindly told me that the important thing was the I had the ginga down.  The ginga is the “swing” or feel, so if I’m OK in that regard, perhaps theres hope for me learning the extra stuff.

The evening continues on in a whirl of joy.  Every few songs, the singers trade off and new singers join the musicians, some seem to be old regulars and some are unexpected guests.  Everyone in the bar knows the words to the songs, and sings along, sometimes closing their eyes and crooning in plaintive bliss.    The party, perhaps unsurprisingly, does not end at 1 as written, but continues at least an hour later.  By the time its over, I have made new friends who can give me a ride home, I have received a sizeable education in samba dancing, and my face hurts from smiling pretty much non stop since the music started.

2:30 am, back at home, sweaty, sore footed, and still abuzz from my evening,  I laugh because the lesson about simplifying my life is going to have to wait.  Why do I force myself out the door at 10:30 pm when I am exhausted and have not had any dinner to take public transportation to a town on the other side of a mountain??  Because life is AMAZING!!!! And you have to drink up as much of it as you can while you have the chance!

I cook myself a 4 egg cheese omelette, scarf it down, and go to bed.  Thank you Brazil for my best night here so far!

It is NOT a tambourine, it’s a Pandeiro!


So I have been following my ears a lot in Brazil —   When I hear music in the air, I track it down, and this has led to some great discoveries.  On my 3rd day in Brazil, I heard the sound of a Maracatu ensemble, a giant drum ensemble, with roots in religious ritual, that plays rousing syncopated music in processional style.  If you heard it on the street, you’d want to run and catch up to it so you could dance.  And that’s what I did, and in the process discovered that there was Maracatu ensemble that practiced on the University campus 5 minutes from my house.  At my first Maracatu practice, I met a guy from the U.S.  He was going incognito, speaking very good Portuguese and blazing through his drum part like a pro.  But through some keen detective work, I figured out his secret North-American-ness.  I was keen to know someone who could tell me what was going on, amd I did my best to make him my friend.  Thankfully, he was amenable to this plan, and it turned out that he is also a SICKLY talented percussionist and is hooked into all sorts of percussion and music scenes here in Floripa.  So Dan (my new friend’s name) has been giving me the inside scoop on all sorts of amazing musical opportunities of which I had been dismally unaware, INCLUDING, a free pandeiro class that takes place in the University woods even CLOSER to my house.

“What is a pandeiro?” you may ask.  It is a frame drum with metal jingles around the rim, called platinelas.  You may see it and think, it is a tambourine.  It IS NOT A TAMBOURINE.  No diss to the tambo, but it holds in its humble frame a Quantam world of rhythmic complexities that dwarf the Newtonian universe of the Tambourine.  It’s a key part of a Samba ensemble (as well as many other styles), and with its pats, slaps, thumps, and clean crisp pattering of platinelas, carries a lot of the swing of this ever-so-Brazilian form of music. Our class is taught by a super cool dude named Osvaldo, or “Vavá” (He must be super cool if he is giving a free pandeiro class in a forest once a week to whoever choses to stop by!).  As far as I can tell, Vavá is to the pandeiro what Jimi Hendrix was to the electric guitar.   He would argue that he is only a disciple of greater Pandeiro Hendrixes of Brazil, but the point is, that this guy can get sounds out of the instrument that I didn’t know it could hold.  Here is a quick video (editing capabilities are still limited due to lack of computer), to give a flavor of the fun that is pandeiro class, and the sick skills of Vavá.  I am stoked to incorporate some pandeiro into surfer grrrl hip hop instrumentals!